Mortuary humor abounds on this droll episode, with change-of-pace jokes about Viagra and cat toys

By Joe McGovern
August 08, 2016 at 02:18 AM EDT
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We’re 13 months away from the Emmy Awards, where The Night Of will be eligible for (and hopefully showered with) nominations. And though the Limited Series category doesn’t distinguish between comedy and drama, this latest episode of HBO’s summer sensation provided more humor — admittedly gallows humor — than most of the laugh-track-reliant sitcoms on TV right now.

So here’s a recap in the form of a top-five countdown of the drollest, wittiest, goofiest moments in this otherwise deadly serious show, with a few notes at the end regarding one truly unfunny charge that’s been recently leveled against HBO in regards to this show.

1. Stone gets Viagra — for a price and from a Price

Episode 5 takes its title from a line spoken by John Stone’s local pharmacist (Fisher Stevens), who’s offering a possible explanation for the citywide shortage of Viagra. One of the side effects of Stone’s eczema treatment is lack of libido, but he wants to be sure he’s ready for his next date with his on-again/off-again gal pal and client (Racquel Bailey).

So with Duane Reade (see no. 5) fresh out of little blue pills, Stone is forced to hit the black market. And in a truly hilarious bit of meta casting, he gets his stash in a bar bathroom from The Night Of’s superstar writer Richard Price.

“If you get an erection lasting more than five hours,” Price tells him, “call the Guinness Book of Records.”

2. Naz is Team Ellen

Episode 5 marks Naz’s transformation from a timid schoolboy into the shaved-head, carved-physique badass he’s become in Rikers. The timeline for this radical makeover is perhaps a bit condensed, since we know from the cat Stone left at the pound (see no. 4) that only 10 days have passed since Naz entered Rikers. But surely time slows down in the slammer.

Naz chooses an odd way of swinging his new weight around. Fellow jailbirds are watching Judge Hatchett on the communal TV and Naz changes the channel to Ellen DeGeneres.

“Nothing wrong with Ellen,” says one of the cons, realizing Naz is in league with prison overlord Freddy. “I think I do wanna watch Ellen shake that ass today,” says the other.

3. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Embalm

This one scene consists of a few minutes of dialogue between district attorney Helen (Jeannie Berlin) and a coroner named Harry (Frank Wood) regarding the cut on Naz’s hand and whether it could have been inflicted while he was killing Andrea. We recall from the first episode that there was another cause, the broken window in Andrea’s front door — which Helen also brings up, somewhat cautiously.

Thank you, Richard Price and director Steven Zaillian, for your demented minds. The entire conversation is held as Helen and Harry are standing over a naked corpse in the morgue. You can almost see the two actors suppressing their laughter at the ludicrous, ghoulish, hilarious scene in which they’re both taking part. And the absurd situation is compounded when Zaillian gratuitously cuts to the corpse’s genitals. (This particular dead man, evidently, had not recently taken any of the drugs Richard Price was selling.)

The scene ends on a grave note. Harry says — and says it twice, the second time less monotone — he believes the cut on Naz’s hand was caused by slipping on the murder weapon. That’ll be persuasive to a jury when he repeats it in court.

4. Meow or Never

As we all expected, Stone returns to the animal shelter in episode 5 and takes home the cat. “This is a stay,” he tells the shelter worker, “not a pardon.” He asks no fewer than three people in the episode if they’ll take the pet, including his prostitute girlfriend, who hears the cat meowing as Stone makes excuses for not being able to perform sexually. And she, like everyone else, says no.

But we also see Stone shopping for kitty toys — and in a very sweet moment, we see his genuine smile as he’s paying for his purchases at the pet store.

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On a related note, there’s also the matter of that squeaky front gate at Andrea’s apartment, which a CSI expect (who Stone tells Chandra he hired “for a flat rate”) notices won’t stay closed. That’s the door behind which the cat was banished when Andrea invited Naz into her place. (Speaking of doors, did you notice the name of the baseball player on the one now leading to the cat’s new room in Stone’s house? Perhaps he’ll call the feline “Gooden.”)

Let’s not forget the blood on the leaves in the backyard. “It could be squirrel blood, though,” the investigator says. What’s the likelihood of that?

NEXT: Duane Reade — the man, the myth, the pharmacy

5. Duane Reade

Perhaps the blood on the leaves belongs to the man with the impossible name of Duane Reade. The pharmacy retail store is a subsidiary of Walgreens and doesn’t appear much outside of New York City, but you really can’t walk 15 minutes in Manhattan without seeing one of the chain’s locations.

So that’s why Stone looks so dumbfounded when Trevor tells him the name of the man accompanying him when they encountered Naz and Andrea. (Funnier still: There is a CVS, of course, right next to the Duane Reade across the street.)

In Stone’s case, the mystery man does actually share the name with the pharmacy, and in stroke of luck, he tracks him down to a bodega at the episode’s end.

On a serious note

In the most haunting final minutes of any episode so far this season, Stone chases Duane Reade through buildings and loses him. Eventually, Stone is left in the dank underworld of New York City, all alone amid the twisted pipes and shadowy passageways, which serve to symbolize just how much is still a dark mystery in the Naz case. The episode ends exactly as it began, with the unsettling blue glow of an ultraviolet light, which is supposed to restore things to how they should be.

That’s going to be tough. Naz has had to admit he was taking the ADHD drug Adderall on the night of Andrea’s murder, which if mixed with other narcotics (such as the anesthetic Ketamine) can cause many problems, not least with his defense. In a neat bit of synchronicity, both Stone and Helen scratch out the term “Good Boy” from their defense/prosecution strategies.

And Naz is sinking deeper into a hole in Rikers. Due to his protective agreement with Freddy, he now has to do certain things, such as smuggle heroin by swallowing pellets during a jailhouse conference with his lawyers. John Turturro is at his absolute best in this scene, as he observes Naz swallowing the drugs and without lecturing or condemning him, says to his client, “I understand why you have to do it. But if you’re caught for this” — Stone puts his hand to his mouth — “the case is over and you’re never getting outta here.”

That writing is dazzling. Credit again to Price and Zaillian for how they allow the scene to play out, subtly and patiently. But my only gripe about this episode is from a much earlier moment. We see Stone giving a talk about his profession to his son’s high-school classroom. A student asks Stone if he would have defended Adolf Hitler, also mentioning that her great-grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust.

Stone is in an impossible situation, of course. But it would have been nice if the show had taken the Hitler question — a classic thought experiment, discussed in countless law schools — one step further and had him explain his position to the student. After all, Alan Dershowitz, the famous Jewish lawyer and scholar (who helped defend O.J. Simpson), has said he would not only defend the Nazi ghoul but also that he would win the case.

HBO was forced to defend itself a bit last week at the Television Critics Association. The network’s programming president, Casey Bloys, was asked to explain the violence against women in the cable lineup. Singled out were Game of Thrones, the upcoming Westworld, and The Night Of.

“Plenty of men are killed as well,” Bloys said, though he added, “I think the criticism is valid. I think it’s something we take into account. It’s not something we want to highlight or are trying to highlight.” (The questioning of Bloys got pretty intense, with one journalist asking if viewers should expect to see men raped on HBO at the same rate women are, and Bloys responding that “Men are castrated” on GoT.)

The issue with The Night Of isn’t the actual violence against a woman, which occurs off-screen and is based on the plot of a BBC show called Criminal Justice. What’s up for debate is the number of times the show has flashed to photos of Andrea’s mutilated body. In nearly every episode since the premiere, we’ve watched over-the-shoulder at someone looking at these bloody pictures, whether it be Helen Weiss or Dennis Box or John Stone.

This admittedly sounds hypocritical — since I just praised the show for having all kinds of fun with a male corpse in this episode — but the repeated callbacks to the dead Andrea strike me as too goosed-up. We know she was stabbed 22 times. We get it. Watching Helen or John Stone flip through the crime-scene photos like they’re pages in a magazine seem a bit weird and needless at this point.

That said, there are three episodes left — and no one doubts that Andrea’s apartment, if not her body, hold secrets that have yet to be uncovered. 

Episode Recaps

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